How Expedia will help HomeAway battle Airbnb

Today’s Expedia Inc‘s acquisition of HomeAway, the vacation rental platform, for $3.9 billion (mostly in stock) could be understood as an alliance of mutual interest against Airbnb, the peer-to-peer short-term rental giant.

It’s true that executives only mentioned Airbnb once by name during their conference call today explaining the acquisition. But each one of their main stated benefits of the tie-up happens to have the side effect of creating a more formidable opposition to the San Francisco-based startup, whose valuation is more than 5 times as high as HomeAway’s.

Executives told investors and media today that the deal would let Expedia turbocharge HomeAway’s growth by spending an enormous amount on marketing the brand, by injecting Expedia’s complementary type of inventory, by creating a fee for consumers to bankroll quality guarantees, and by helping the brand more quickly execute on its tricky transition from a classified listings site to a instantly bookable transactions platform.

Branding blitz

Expedia plans to step up HomeAway’s marketing within the next three years. That decision could be interpreted as an attempt to outgun and outmaneuver Airbnb.

HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples acknowledged at one point the larger context:

“It’s a brand game, a brand battle. There’s another company out there that gets a lot of press, a poster child of the sharing economy….

Not to give too much away to competitors, but we are planning to scale up and spend orders of magnitude more on marketing than we would today…. A much much bigger footprint that people will feel when you wake up on Sunday and watch TV.”

Launching an urban assault

Blending the inventory of the two companies, which don’t have much overlap in listings, could also position the combined brands more effectively against Airbnb.

For instance, Expedia’s vacation rental inventory and customer base is almost entirely in urban markets, said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Expedia, Inc. An upcoming deal to bring on board tens of thousands of apartments in European cities will only deepen that inventory, he noted.

HomeAway’s vacation rental inventory and customers have tended to focus on resort and other far-flung areas. Out of about $14 billion in bookings transacted over HomeAway in 2015, less than $1 billion was for properties in urban markets, estimated Sharples.

While Expedia’s urban properties aren’t homestays, many of them compete directly for customers against Airbnb, which has an urban emphasis. The Expedia HomeAway combined inventory will likely have more breadth, and thus more appeal to consumers. Said Sharples:

“Long-term, even people in urban markets are going to have to participate in this channel because we’ll have made it too big for people who are in this business to ignore.”

On this point, Sharples acknowledged that some investors had worried about Airbnb’s superior positioning in urban markets.

“Something that has held our stock back a little is people looking at these urban markets. People ask, ‘What is HomeAway going to do there? Do they have the resources to do something there?’

Certainly in urban markets we now have … Expedia’s platform that has top demand in that area…. Together we’re going to try to find a sweet spot there. It may not be exactly competitive with some of the other models out there involving inventory we don’t like. But we think there’s a huge opportunity in urban areas with the inventory we do like.”

Targeting a “more profitable” segment

HomeAway focuses on second homes that are full-time for rental, unlike Airbnb, which still does a huge business in primary residences being turned out for rental. Sharples said he liked that:

“We’re not really in the homestay market today…. Job number one is to really really build the biggest business we can in the vacation rental market with the kind of inventory we’ve had….”

Sharples estimated HomeAway only has about 15% of the potential global transaction volume of second home inventory, with homestay being a separate category of business outside of that. He then dismissed the homestay model.

“There is a big segment of homestays that is probably not a very profitable business to be in because the average room night revenue is so low when you compare it with the average cost to acquire a customer…. The biggest company in that business doesn’t make money in that yet. They may. But we’re going to try to focus on the profitable stuff.”

Marketing itself as more trustworthy

Another of today’s announcements could be seen as a move to help the Texas-headquartered HomeAway bolster its position vis-a-vis California-based Airbnb.

Starting by June of 2016, HomeAway will roll out for the first time a fee for consumers who book stays through its collection of brands, starting with US customers.

The fee will only be added where there is online checkout, and 44% of the company’s transactions still aren’t online yet — though the goal is for them all to be online by the 2016.

Customers paying the “traveler service fee” will be promised “a higher level of guarantee and trust products,” said Sharples, who was vague on details. But he inferred that the context was to

The fee will be on a sliding scale and average of about 6% average of most transactions. A fee at that typical rate would lower than what its major competitors, such as Airbnb, charge consumers.

But tying that fee into an added assurance of protection against fraud is also part of an effort to undermine Airbnb, which it wants to imply has flakier owners and more inconsistent quality control in its inventory.

Another perk of the fee will be that HomeAway will be able to lower the commissions and subscriptions it charges its suppliers, making its offer more competitively priced for property owners choosing platforms to list on. Sharples says that, in testing, the fee did not reduce bookings.

The company also aims to improve its monetization relative to its competitors. It’s only at just above 3% compared to about 12% for Airbnb and TripAdvisor (owner of FlipKey).

HomeAway’s goal is to get to about 8% to 10% range, letting it stay more attractive in suppliers’ eyes than Airbnb and other rivals while still tripling its revenue from today’s level.

Speeding up a difficult transition

The last main reason why this tie-up strengthens both parties to vie with Airbnb is the expertise that Expedia can provide HomeAway’s management in negotiating a transition in business model and in optimizing for greater conversion.

The implication here — not spelled out by the executives — is that if HomeAway stumbled in its execution, Airbnb might gain an insurmountable lead in momentum.

Noted Sharples:

“It creates more certainty on the execution front [as we transition from a listings model to a transaction model]. There is competition in this business, and conversion expertise is essential…

“We know there will be some owners who don’t like the changes. We know the most important thing to owners and keep them happy is to deliver them more revenue and more bookings.

So we are going to be able to make these changes under the air cover of a greatly expanded distribution network with Expedia. In the end, suppliers are going to find that… there’s no other platform they can get as many bookings and revenue….”

Skeptics may wonder if there is still an execution risk because Expedia may be too busy having to digest its other recent acquisitions — Orbitz, Travelocity, and Wotif — to be able to give HomeAway proper attention.

Khosrowshahi waved away this concern:

“Orbitz is the third integration our team has embarked on. The teams now know how to do this…. We feel good about where we are on the Orbitz integration… We look at HomeAway a bit differently. HomeAway is not going to be a heavy integration….

“The value we see is that HomeAway is moving through a transition from a classified listings-based model to primarily a transaction-based model, and we think we can add a lot of value there because, [at Expedia Inc ourselves], we’ve spent the past five or six years optimizing the transaction process for conversion growth leading to be the ability to boost variable marketing and combine that with better customer experience, adding up to a really good formula….

“To some extent we see HomeAway at where we were in year two of our journey, of where we were three or four years ago.

“We have a saying at our company: ‘In the end, math wins.’

“In this deal, we think it’s on our side.”

EARLIER: Expedia acquires HomeAway for $3.9 billion

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Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.



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  1. Becky

    As a host with listings on various platforms, I find HomeAway the one with the worst Terms & Conditions. Their online payments are not safe for hosts. If the traveller decides to do a chargeback – the hosts is immediately charged and held fully responsible for it. Secure payments??? As a host you are basically never guaranteed your payment ( I had first hand experience).
    Expedia or not, if they keep these unfair T&Cs I will NOT renew my subscription (I’m already refusing all the bookings that come from them) and I will spread the word: hosts, this company doesn’t guarantee your payments against fraudulent travelers, their due diligence sucks.

  2. Donna

    please twit your frustration directly to Mr Sharples @briansharples

  3. Donna

    To quote Expedia’s CEO Khosrowshahi from the above article

    “We have a saying at our company: ‘In the end, math wins.’
    “In this deal, we think it’s on our side.” OH IS IT EVER

    I have not adopted BIN
    Historically March has always been my highest page views/booking for the year.
    Per my listing analytics
    March 2015 page views 1544
    March 1-15 2016 page views 254 – and many of these page views are from me visiting my page to see what nonsense HA is up to, like for instance redirecting me from my page to for hotels in my area. Great way to spend my listing $. So, if we double the page views for the balance of March, I will be down 2/3’s the page views from last year for what used to be my busiest time of year.

  4. Isn

    This is very poor development for us individual owners and agents. It is clear that they are trying to corner the market

  5. Valerie B,

    I am a HomeAway user. I do not advertise on AirBnB as I do not like their platform nor do I care about the type of cheap clientele it caters to.. HomeAway so far has been the Cadillac of vacation rentals and the listings offered are not about sleeping in someone’s apartment or sofa. If HomeAway start copying AirBnB, I will focus more on advertising on other channels such as Charging the customers 6% is a turn off and a huge mistake. I also want to be in control of my bookings. So I am sure another vacation rentals will rise after HomeAway makes all those mistakes. Trip Advisor is constantly me calling to get more business but I moved away from them too. Most owners will look for alternative website and it will be the downfall of HomeAway. AirBnb is not a real vacation rental site. It is more of a sleeping arrangement at someone’s house which is being fought by California and New York rightfully so.

    • Steven

      Airbnb has very luxurious listings with nightly rates to match. They cater to basically any class that has access to an internet connection. Your information is wrong. I get higher average nightly rates on Airbnb than VRBO/HomeAway. Airbnb allows you to market your property to the clientele you prefer.

    • Becky

      HomeAway the Cadillac of vacation rentals?
      I have a property I rent for about €250 per night – selfcontained, 95% of the time booked.
      With HomeAway I get but a trickle of bookings, and TripAdvisor nothing. sends lots of time-waisting enquires and charges 15% commission to owners + their calendars don’t sync with other platforms. They’re just recently accepting online payments, so might get better enquiries, but I need to check if they’re like HomeAway, which hold owners totally responsible for chargebacks and for this reason, a no no

  6. Joel Brandon-Bravo

    I remember being on the same line up as Brian at the Travolution summit in 2010 (Kevin was this still when you hosted it?). Brian seemed to be doing a great job of raising money, to then globe trot gobbling up the plethora of listing sites to bring them under one roof. Owners Direct and of note from the UK.

    It seemed very sensible. Like ebay and the consolidation in the online auction business, it makes sense for consumers to have one leading site with the most inventory in one place rather than a fragmented market.

    But I also remember Brian saying back then that they were and would remain a listings business and he wasn’t bothered about being in the transaction space. As with anything in the online space, those willing to look at the friction in a user conversion path and to simplify it, leads to winning in that market.

    Instant booking capability, taking the fees and holding them as security to provide some comfort for the buyer all gave AirBnB a UX edge. Not to mention great cash flow and interest earning potential on the months sitting on the money!).

    The fact that Brian was caught napping on that front, let AirBnB go from nowhere to 5 x their valuation over that time. Issues this deals looks to accelerate and fix.

    A lesson to us all.

    Still congrats to Brian who may have lost ground but still will have done well from this transaction and quite sensibly will give HomeAway a better chance of competing.

  7. J Page

    As a vacation rental owner currently spending $1,500 a year on a VRBO listing I am concerned. A classified listing is all I want or need and I’m willing to pay handsomely for it. What I am not willing to do is allow the transaction to flow through Homeaway. Right now I have full control. I interact directly with my guests, I get paid by check, I get nothing but 5 star reviews. I have a successful business and am proud of what I have built.

    I am not interested in becoming just another property on VRBO, paying credit cards fees, paying per-booking fees. I will never allow people to book my rental before I have a chance to interact with them.

    My guess is there will be a lot of talk about moving away from the classified listing model but I can’t see them forcing it anytime soon as ~70% of Homeaway’s revenue is from subscription-based listings like mine.

    • Drew Meyers

      J Page
      Given your feedback, I’d love to chat with you offline.


      Hi J Page,

      I advertise on HomeAway as well and can fully confirm your way of thinking. The OTAs try more and more to pull all information about our clients on their side. Unfortunately I fear that we can not much do about it as their market power is growing more and more with all these mergers.

      One small solution is a modern and sexi webpage!

      Good luck!

      • Alia

        Hi Hubert,

        I do have a modern and sexy website, but guess what? From being number 1 in Google organic results for many, many years, now I am down on the 1st page or even second. Why? Because of such sites HomeAway,, AirBnb, etc, etc..They take all the real estate on the organic search. And I am good at SEO & many other things, but I am one person only.
        PS I am from Bucharest and I have an account on a site (the biggest one in Romania) similar with Craig’s List. Remember the trick of AirBnb with Craig’s few years ago? Writing to the owners to go and list on AirBnb? Amazingly they do the same on the Romanian site which I mentioned. As fresh as two days ago:)

        Never let go the tactics which are good:)


          Hello Alia,
          It is on Google like in real live: Money makes the world go round…that’s why the OTAs have all the best ranking on Google… But I do not see that customers actively contact us via our homepage, they all book via & Co….only the customer can change things!

        • Irish Cottage

          We’ve dumped Homeaway as we want to be in control of the cashflow and the relationship – its difficult but doable (abandoned Holidaylettings some time ago due to the worst service imaginable) – not holding our breath but hopefully a pure listings site still has a future!


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